Paid sick leave is now a reality in California

A new law in California guarantees most employees paid sick time and penalizes employers that do not comply.

Although many countries in the world guarantee paid sick leave for workers, the United States is not among them. However, that may change if other states or the federal government follows California's example. Governor Jerry Brown recently signed the Healthy Workplaces, Healthy Families Act of 2014 into law. The law guarantees paid sick leave for the majority of the workers within the state and provides protection against wrongful termination for those taking advantage of the law's benefits.

About the act

Starting on July 15, 2015, any California worker who works a minimum of 30 days within the year following the beginning of their employment are entitled to accrue paid sick leave. This includes professional and administrative employees that are exempt from overtime.

Under the law, eligible employees accrue one hour of paid sick leave for every 30 hours worked. However, an employer has the option of limiting an employee to use 24 hours (3 work days) of paid sick leave each year. In the event that the employee accrues more than 24 hours of sick leave in a year, he or she is entitled to carry over the unused balance into the following year. However, employers may cap the total amount of accrued sick leave to 48 hours.

The sick leave may be used by employees for the care, diagnosis or treatment of a health condition, or for the preventative care of the employee or his or her family. Additionally, the time off can be used if the employee is a victim of sexual assault, domestic violence or stalking. Although they qualify for leave after only 30 days, employees must be employed 90 days before they may start using the leave.

The new sick leave law applies to all employers with a minimum of one employee except for: employees covered by a collective bargaining agreement, in-home service providers, and airline cabin and flight deck crews. In addition, employers that already have paid sick leave policies that give time off that is at least equal to the new law do not have to provide additional paid sick leave.

Penalties for violations

The law prohibits the employer from denying employees their right to use accrued sick days or discharge (or threaten to do so), suspend, demote or discriminate against the employee in any manner for using their sick time. Under the law, there is a rebuttable presumption that illegal retaliation has occurred if an adverse action against the employee is taken within 30 days of:

Filing a complaint regarding a violation of the law with the labor commissioner

Opposing a policy, act or practice prohibited by the law

Cooperating with an investigation into violations of the law

Employees that experience an adverse employment action may file a complaint with the labor commissioner, who may award them a monetary penalty equal to three times the value of the denied sick time or $250, whichever is greater, up to a maximum of $4,000. Additionally, employees terminated because they exercised their rights under the new law have the right to file a wrongful termination lawsuit against their employer. In this type of civil lawsuit, the employee may recover damages such as: past, present and future wages, emotional distress, and punitive damages.

If you suspect you have been terminated because of your age, race, sex, religion, or in retaliation for exercising your rights under law, it is important to speak with an experienced employment law attorney immediately. Employers often attempt to hide the true reasons for your dismissal. An attorney can work to discover the true nature of your dismissal and hold your former employer accountable for their illegal behavior.